The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
“Only love and uncalculating devotion towards others will lead to the greatest harmony in life and in art of which humanity has been dreaming so long,” Chagall once remarked. “And this must, of course, be included in each utterance, in each brushstroke, and in each color” (quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, ed., Chagall: A Retrospective, New York, 1995, p. 208).
True to his word, Chagall treated the theme of young lovers–the affianced pair, the bride and groom, or the newlywed couple, who have abandoned themselves to love and to each other–more frequently than any other subject. There are many variants on this theme, and as befitting the mysteries of human emotion, and so characteristic of Chagall’s marvelously inventive, dream-like pictorial universe, there is rarely a straightforward or clearly logical narrative behind these paintings. In Les mariés sous le baldaquin, the radiant young couple hovers weightlessly off the ground, high above a diminutive purple townscape; yet they are anchored beneath a scarlet-colored chuppah, the ceremonial canopy that symbolizes in Jewish nuptials the home that the newlyweds will build together. They are simultaneously part of this world and beyond it, their love an ideal union of the sensual and the spiritual, of human yearning and divine mystery.
The great love of Chagall’s own life was his first wife Bella Rosenfeld, like himself a native of Vitebsk in Belarus, whom he wed in 1915; it was a devastating blow to the artist when Bella died unexpectedly in 1944, during the couple’s wartime exile in the United States. Chagall had an extended liaison during the late 1940s and early 1950s with Virginia McNeil and fathered a son by her; he married again in 1952, this time to Valentine (“Vava”) Brodsky, after a courtship that lasted only a few months. Yet the daily domestic intimacy that he enjoyed with Vava at Saint-Paul-de-Vence for the final three decades of his life could never eclipse the mythic eternal moment that he had created around the memory of Bella, or diminish the enduring intensity of his feelings for his lost love, which had become the central vault in the great storehouse of his imagination. “Out of this domestic Eden, lived and remembered, poured an endless series of painted epithalamia,” Sidney Alexander has written. “Bella as goddess, Bella as Venus, Bella as Bathsheba...Bella as a white whish of rocket soaring toward the moon. Even after her death, whenever he painted a bride it was Bella” (Marc Chagall, A Biography, New York, 1978, p. 82).
Chagall painted Les mariés sous le baldaquin in 1978-1980, more than a half-century since his marriage to Bella and over three decades after her death. She appears here in her bridal finery, standing out pale and ethereal–a heavenly body, her expression beatific and rapt–against the brilliantly colored sky, with its incandescent bursts of yellow, orange, and red. Chagall and his beloved embrace as though projecting their ultimate reunion in the afterlife, their ecstasy embodied in the music of the fiddler, the vivid hues of the flowers, and the soaring flight of the birds and angels. “Their joy has levitated from the ground,” Susan Compton has written. “Their faces are real enough, but now their position is imaginary. By this device Chagall has conveyed the magic carpet of human love, borrowed perhaps from the world of the folk tale, where hero and heroine live happily ever after” (Chagall, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1985, pp. 15-16).